Convenience Coffee, Italian Style


Lest you think that all food in Italy is slow food, Italians do have a way with convenience foods. I've written before about the imaginative lunchable-in-translation of Nutella, breadsticks, and ice tea. When we traveled to Italy a few weeks ago, we spotted pouches of foil-wrapped bite-size cubes of parmiggiano reggiano, "fredo fredo" and "caldo caldo" (instantly hot or cold coffees), and, at the COOP (supermarket), small pouches of pre-cubed pancetta, just right for cooking one dish. But, none of these could have prepared me for the magic of Pocket Espresso To Go, my newest discovery.

I've been a fan of Ferrero's Pocket Coffee, a chocolate and praline confection with a liquid coffee center (think of those nasty liquor-filled chocolate bottles, only better and with espresso inside and you get the idea). Stopping at an Autogrill somewhere along the Autostrade between Milan and Bologna, I thought I was purchasing some of these treats. However, it turned out that I had taken home some something quite different.

Opening the box, I discovered that these were not the candies I expected, but tiny containers. Each came with a two inch-long straw attached, and a spot labeled "forare qui" (pierce here). I plunged the straw into the miniature drink box and sucked out the syrupy contents: 21.8 ml of the liquid center (sweetened with sugar and chocolate) you would find in Pocket Coffee. It was thick, bitter-sweet, and stimulating (according to the box, contains 1/3 of the caffeine in a shot of espresso).

Unfortunately, I can't find a source for purchasing Pocket Espresso To Go in the U.S., but if you know of one, let us know in the comments.


My Square Foot Garden: Harvesting Radishes and Beginning Beans

French Breakfast Radish Harvest

French Breakfast Radishes with Bagna Cauda

Radishes with Butter, Sea Salt, and Baguette

We had our first major harvest in the square foot garden recently: French breakfast radishes. Some were misshapen, others were puny, but the bottom line is that they grew at all! Not that this harvest was huge anyway. After all, this was only a 1'x1' crop, so the radishes were gone by the end of lunch. Such is the life of a square foot gardener.

Above is your basic combination of radishes with butter and sea salt on a baguette. This was pretty scrumptious, but you how can you go wrong with Plugra and Maldon sea salt? The creamy, rich butter tempered the peppery radishes. Smooth, crunchy, and delicious.

With the other half of the bunch, I made radishes with bagna cauda (recipe here). This was easy and pretty fantastic. You simply warm extra virgin olive oil with garlic, salt, and anchovies, and then spoon the mixture over the radishes. I've never made bagna cauda before, but I'm sure that I'll be making it again soon with other crisp, raw vegetables.

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Agenda: Crab Boil Wednesdays, Restaurant Week, Chefs & Champagne, and Meet Your Maker



Summer Crab Boil
In the spirit of sister restaurant Savoy's summer clam bakes, Back Forty (190 Avenue B) will present the first of its first annual summer Crab Boils. The old fashion crab boil includes spiced Blue Crabs piled on your newspaper-covered table, corn on the cob, potatoes, slaw, and dessert. Optional pitchers of local brews will also be available for $15. The Crab Boils will take place Wednesdays, from July 23rd through August 27th. Reservations are required one week in advance: 212.388.1990. $35/person.

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Great Moments in Grilling: Broccoli Rabe


It's hard to think of cooking broccoli rabe by any method other than sautéeing in olive oil (or blanching in boiling water, if you are so inclined). But, who wants to be doing that in 98 degree weather? Well, here's a summer solution you may not have thought of: grill it.

I recently came across a recipe for grilling broccoli rabe in Judy Rodgers' Zuni Cafe Cookbook. Rodgers, who also happens to be the genius mind behind grilled fava beans, suggests dressing the stalks as you would a salad, tossing the broccoli rabe with a tablespoon of water, a few tablespoons of olive oil, and salt. Next -- and this is crucial -- let it sit in the bowl for 5 to 10 minutes or so. This gives the salt a chance to do its work, slightly softening the otherwise tough greens. Then, it's onto the grill to cook on each side for roughly 1-1/2 minutes, charring and steaming until tender. It's delicious, and, better yet, there's no sauté pan to clean afterwards. N.B. This dress, salt, and wait method also works great for grilling radicchio and belgian endive, two favorites of mine.


Op Ed: Is Eating Local Earnest or Elitist?


I initially found myself amused reading about all of the "local food" shenanigans reported in Kim Severson's front-page article, "A Locally Grown Diet With Fuss but No Muss,"  published in today's New York Times. It is funny that we have come to this point in our food culture where people would hire out personal gardeners, invest in an animal share, or plan a wedding with catered food grown within 100 miles of the altar. Why not poke fun at the trendiness of those who want their food local, but don't want to get their "hands dirty" farming. What a bunch of suckers.

But, does anyone want to get their hands dirty farming anyway, rich or poor? The entire food industry rests on this simple notion. Most Americans buy their food in supermarkets, and while I'm a great supporter of farmer's markets, they are insufficient to supply all of my food. My local farmer's market is open only from July to October, and when it is open, it operates only once a week. The produce is great, but there is no fish and little meat available

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Market Memoir

Thefoodlife A copy of The Food Life: Inside the World of Food with the Grocer Extraordinaire at Fairway just landed on my desk. That "grocer extraordinaire" (and the book's author) would, of course, be Fairway market's brash cheese monger and ambassador, Steven Jenkins. Never short on opinions, whether he is excited by cheese ("a true Camembert smells of sex"), angry about California-grown black olives ("as phony as can be"), or annoyed by "Top Chef" ("I can enjoy the lowbrow stuff as much as the next person. But this stuff makes my skin crawl."), Jenkins takes us on an insider's tour of Fairway's various departments -- meat, fish, cheese, etc. -- to meet the men and women behind the counter and the history of the market.

There are recipes, tips about ingredients, and an entire chapter on how to navigate the market's notoriously crowded aisles. Along the way, Jenkins shares his secret for removing the fishy smell from his hands after a day of slicing salmon: "Just rub lemon juice all over them -- the way Susan Sarandon did in Atlantic City. Except she wasn't rubbing lemon juice on just her hands, as I recall. As if I didn't recall. Hubba hubba." Hubba hubba, indeed. $19.77 at


Agenda: Tofu Smackdown, Slow Food for Babies, Ice Cream, and Farm Art


Tofu Tofu Smackdown
Four of New York’s top chefs show off their tofu skills as they compete for a $5,000 grand prize (and, of course, bragging rights) at the "Tofu Around the World Cook-off." The competing chefs are Erik Battes, Chef de Cuisine at Perry St Café; Wylie Dufresne, Executive Chef & Owner of WD 50; Edward Higgins, Chef de Cuisine at Insieme; and Akinobu Suzuki, Executive Chef at Sakagura. The free event is open to the public and will take place at Astor Center (399 Lafayette Street) on Tuesday, July 22nd, from 3:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. RSVP:   

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My Square Foot Garden: Week 3

Cucumber emerges

Week 3: A baby cucumber makes its debut. 

When I last wrote about my new square foot garden, I left you with something of a cliffhanger: What shape would the garden be in after spending two weeks away in Italy?

The good news is that when we returned home last week, everything I planted was still alive. Thanks to my neighbor, who kept each of the boxes watered, the plants had not only survived, but were actually growing. And, the seeds which I had planted for radishes, beets, chard, arugula, and frisee had actually sprouted while I was gone. The only sign of neglect were the basil plants, which beefier, but now sporting white flowers. I pinched those off (according to everything I've read about what you're supposed to do with basil).

The Garden: Week 3

Here's a blow-by-blow update, box-by-box (and row by row, left to right):

Box #1
· The Cherokee tomato plant are looking good as the vine makes its way up the stake.
· Sweet 100 cherry tomato plant is also coming along nicely.
· The cucumber plants are growing very fast, extending thin tendrils to climb even higher. Small, embryonic cukes are visible!
· That malabar spinach, too tall for this spot, is out. In went seeds to grow red chard. Little red sprouts are visible.
· Basil is looking taller and bushier.
· It's status quo for the orange pepper plant. Not too much new going on (on the other hand, it's still alive).
· Arugula seeds have also sprouted.
· Leaves of frisee have emerged from the seeds I planted before the trip
· Greek oregano is spreading. In retrospect, this seems like a waste of space. I'm inclined to pull it out and replant with something else. Any recipe ideas for using up the oregano?

Box #2
· Vintage wine tomatoes are growing.
· Brandywine vine has continued to grow.
· Hillbilly tomato plant, the tallest, is nearing the top of the stake. It must have almost doubled in size.
· The finger eggplant continues to grow.
· The rosemary is taller.
· Italian large leaf basil is growing.
· The spicy/globe basil is really doing well.
· The beets I planted have sprouted.
· Leafy radish greens have popped out where I planted French breakfast radishes. They should be ready to pick this week.

Stay tuned for more updates, or follow along as I post photos of the garden's progress on flickr.


The Food Section's Square Foot Garden photoset The Food Section's Square Foot Garden photoset

Food Art


Crafted in Germany, these sheets of fruit and vegetable papyrus are made from ultra-thin slices of real produce. Carrot paper, above, is stunning when illuminated, as are the blood orange and cucumber papers. They would look great in a kitchen window or make a fine material for a food-inspired lamp shade (for you crafty types out there). More variations, including kiwi, persimmon, and eggplant, are available, among others at Hiromi Paper, from $9.00 to $13.60 per sheet. [Found at Richard's Notes]


Agenda: Bastille Day, Summer Pastries, and Flatiron Chefs



Bastille Day
Bar Tabac (128 Smith Street, Brooklyn) will once again be hosting it's annual Bastille Day street festival complete with Ricard cocktails, live music, and the United State's largest Petanque tournament. The celebration spills over the next day to Cercle Rouge (241 West Broadway), which will celebrate with a prix fixe menu including choices like Goat Cheese and Onion Tart and Trout Almondine. The event at Bar Tabac will take place on Sunday, July 13th from 12:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. (718.923.0918). The the event at Cercle Rouge will take place the following night, Monday, July 14th, starting at 6:00 p.m. Prix fixe menu: $39.95/person (212.226.6252).

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